His mind flashed back at that thought: he remembered the time when he had sought out every nook and cranny of that ancient town of Quebec, and had stood over graves two centuries old, and deep in his soul had envied the dead the lives they had lived. He had always thought of Quebec as a rare old bit of time-yellowed lace among cities—the heart of the New World as it had once been, still beating, still whispering of its one-time power, still living in the memory of its mellowed romance, its almost forgotten tragedies—a ghost that lived, that still beat back defiantly the destroying modernism that would desecrate its sacred things. And it pleased him to think of Marette Radisson as the spirit of it, wandering north, and still farther north—even as the spirits of the profaned dead had risen from the Landing to go farther on.
And feeling that the way had at last been made easy for him, Kent smiled out into the glorious day and whispered softly, as if she were standing there, listening to him:
“If I had lived—I would have called you—my Quebec. It’s pretty, that name. It stands for a lot. And so do you.”
And out in the hall, as Kent whispered those words, stood Father Layonne, with a face that was whiter than the mere presence of death had ever made it before. At his side stood Cardigan, aged ten years since he had placed his stethoscope at Kent’s chest that morning. And behind these two were Kedsty, with a face like gray rock, and young Mercer, in whose staring eyes was the horror of a thing he could not yet quite comprehend. Cardigan made an effort to speak and failed. Kedsty wiped his forehead, as he had wiped it the morning of Kent’s confession. And Father Layonne, as he went to Kent’s door, was breathing softly to himself a prayer.
From the window, the glorious day outside, and the vision he had made for himself of Marette Radisson, Kent turned at the sound of a hand at his door and saw it slowly open. He was expecting it. He had read young Mercer like a book. Mercer’s nervousness and the increased tightening of the thing in his chest had given him warning. The thing was going to happen soon, and Father Layonne had come. He tried to smile, that he might greet his wilderness friend cheerfully and unafraid. But the smile froze when the door opened and he saw the missioner standing there.
More than once he had accompanied Father Layonne over the threshold of life into the presence of death, but he had never before seen in his face what he saw there now. He stared. The missioner remained in the doorway, hesitating, as if at the last moment a great fear held him back. For an interval the eyes of the two men rested upon each other in a silence that was like the grip of a living thing. Then Father Layonne came quietly into the room and closed the door behind him.
Kent drew a deep breath and tried to grin. “You woke me out of a dream,” he said, “a day-dream. I’ve had a very pleasant experience this morning, mon pere.”